Nov 29 2019

Voter Concern Grows Over Language Change to Piedmont Municipal Services Special Tax Proposal: Council, Dec. 2, Monday

Proposed Municipal Services Special Parcel Tax has key language changes allowing elimination of services previously funded by the Piedmont parcel tax. Some have called the parcel tax proposal a “blank check.”

The Piedmont City Council in haste is expected at their, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, 7:30 p.m. meeting  to approve the second and final reading of Ord. 746N.S. which will place a renewal of the Municipal Services Special Parcel Tax, effective July 1, 2021, before the voters at a Special Municipal Election consolidated with the upcoming Presidential Primary Election on March 3, 2020. 

On November 18, 2019, the City Council approved a first reading of Ord. 746N.S.  At that meeting, the Council, according to the staff report, made what is called a “non-substantive” amendment to the language of Section 20B.2.on the first page of the ordinance.  Vice Mayor Teddy King objected to changing the existing language of the parcel tax proposal which states how the funds are to be spent. However, the rest of the Council and the City Attorney indicated the new language is not significantly different.

Apparently, the councilmembers and the City Attorney did not realize the language change no longer stipulates required uses of the parcel tax funds. For, the language changes from “including, but not limited to” to  “which MAY include, but are not limited to” were viewed by councilmembers as “essentially the same.”  

Voter concern has consequently arisen regarding the proposed new parcel tax language pointing to the change as considerable and  substantive in stating: “which may includeing,” rather than the current word “including.”

The newly proposed change to the parcel tax language would no longer require the Council to use the parcel tax money for the longstanding list of services and permits the Council to eliminate parcel tax funding for:

  • police and fire protection,
  • street maintenance,
  • building regulations,
  • library services,
  • recreation,
  • parks maintenance,
  • planning and public works
  • and similar services.

Some have stated the language change gives the Council a “blank check” by allowing the deletion of previously supported parcel tax funding for the named services.

The amended parcel tax language is indicated below in context. Deleted text is in strike through and new text is in italics.

“If in any fiscal year commencing on or after July 1, 2021, the City Council shall determine that municipal services, which may includeing, but are not limited to, police and fire protection, street maintenance, building regulations, library services, recreation, parks maintenance, planning and public works and similar services, are necessary for the public good, welfare and safety, and that the cost of making available such services will exceed the amount of funds generated through other revenue and income of the City for such services, then it may levy a special tax for such fiscal year on each parcel of real property within the City in a manner provided herein.”

READ the agenda HERE.

READ the three staff reports* on the tax proposal below:

*Editors Note: The newly revised  City of Piedmont website has become more difficult for Piedmonters to access information on specific agenda issues. Example, the subjects of the staff report no longer appear in the links. Only a file number is provided.

9 Responses to “Voter Concern Grows Over Language Change to Piedmont Municipal Services Special Tax Proposal: Council, Dec. 2, Monday”

  1. The difference in the wording is enormous. If it is changed, the citizens of Piedmont MAY very well regret it. Endless bitterness and expense can easily result from the inclusion or exclusion of a single word. The most prudent and language conscious path is to keep the wording exactly as it is. If you doubt the veracity of this position, read the phrase over ten or twenty times slowly until you can mentally savor the difference: a difference that can cost us millions.
    Sunny Bostrom~Fleming

  2. I suspect the objective is to give more wiggle room to spend the parcel tax on non-service items like new facilities which Council is lining up for the pool and coaches. The parcel tax receipts are rising too fast to spend on those listed services. Staff reportedly budgets for $2.8M but the tax has routinely come in at $3.5M and above. Ten years ago when I was on the council we didn’t levy the tax one year because receipts came in at $3.2M. That won’t happen now I suspect.

    I agree about the website. It may be better for enrolling kids in Rec programs, but it is harder now to find staff reports and other ready documents.

  3. from “Agenda Insight” presented before December 2, 2019 City Council meeting:

    Item 3, the first item on tonight’s regular agenda, is the second reading of Ordinance 746 N.S. to renew the Municipal Services special Tax for 4 years effective July 1, 2021, and to place this before voters in a special election on March 3,2020, consolidated with the California Presidential Primary on that date….

    Although most aspects of this renewal reflect no change, there is a word change that appears to have an impact. The wording of the present parcel tax says, “If in any fiscal year the City Council shall determine that municipal services INCLUDING but not limited to…” and then it names 9 services which must be included in general fund expenditures, with support from the parcel tax if other city income isn’t sufficient to cover them.

    At the first reading of this ordinance, last meeting, that language was changed to, “municipal services which MAY INCLUDE but are not limited to..” and then lists the same 9 services. The staff report calls this a non-substantive change, but many people read it as a very substantive change because it gives Council the flexibility to remove any service from this list. The 9 services are police, fire, street maintenance, building regulations, library, recreation, parks maintenance, planning, and public works.

    If the Council wants to put this on the March ballot, they must pass the second reading tonight because they are up against a deadline for submitting the final ballot language to the Registrar of Voters…..

    Item 4 is consideration of a resolution approving procedural details for the Special Election of March 3… Of particular interest to voters, this item also sets the 75 word ballot question to read, “Shall Ordinance 746 N.S. which maintains essential police, fire, and paramedic services, prevents the reduction in maintenance of City parks, greenspaces and other public areas, and prevents the loss of recreational and other public services, by renewing the City of Piedmont’s expiring parcel tax for four years… be adopted?”

    ….Interestingly enough, this ballot language is almost the same language we voted on in 2016, so all 9 services were not mentioned last time around either. However, in both 2016 and 2020, it is the language of the resolution we are voting on, not the 75-word summary, and the language of the resolution has changed.

  4. The 75 word ballot summary put before voters must reflect that the parcel tax no longer must go to only the nine essential City services. If Council wishes to make this change to allow the tax to be used in otherwise, minimally this must be made clear to voters.

    I still miss the old website which had a more direct path to documents and information related to important civic matters. A separate portal or an additional tab for Recreation signups could have simply been added with updated code supporting the old interface.

  5. Does anyone know if this change was discussed at the recent Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC)?

    Editors Note: Minutes are not kept of the BAFPC meetings and the meetings are not broadcast. Contact the City Clerk or Finance Director at 510/420-3040 for more information.

  6. This revision to the parcel tax must have been discussed by the BAFPC. It’s such a fundamental part of city financial planning. Haven’t had time to read their report. Perhaps a BAFPC member or city staff can weigh in here and answer the question. Did The BAFPC discuss this change to the parcel tax and review the specific language?

  7. The change in language was not part of the BAFPC final report, presented at the October 7, 2019 City Council meeting.

  8. Thanks Winifred. If not the specific language, Did the BAFPC conceptually discuss this change to the parcel tax?

  9. In answer to Garrett’s question, did the BAFPC conceptually discuss this change to the parcel tax? No, it did not go into the details of the parcel tax renewal.
    The Executive Summary of the report is well worth reading. It addresses operating costs as well long-term infrastructure needs, stating “The City must balance its basic operational needs with the aspirational desires of the public for improved facilities…” (p. 2 of the report presented on 10/7/19).
    The Council provided direction on the topic of long-term infrastructure needs at its 11/4/19 meeting. From the minutes regarding an informational report from the Aquatics Sub-Committee:
    “Councilmembers discussed the need to estimate the funding required to replace aging infrastructure, to determine potential sources of funding, and to discern the community’s support for possible tax measures.
    The Council directed staff to implement the recommendations made by the Aquatics Subcommittee.”
    Happy reading!

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